Monday, 3 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Death Bed - The Bed That Eats (1977)

Director: George Barry
Screenplay: George Barry
Cast: Demene Hall (as Diane); Rosa Luxemburg (as Sharon); William Russ (as Sharon's Brother); Julie Ritter (as Suzan); Linda Bond (as The Resurrected); Patrick Spence-Thomas (as the Voice of the Artist)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #29

It's tragic most will know of Death Bed from the Patton Oswalt skit. A comedian I have little interest in, so I won't unfairly dismiss someone I know little of, and the skit has a humour to it I liked, but the real gripe is thinking that the geek fan base for him celebrates mass produced superhero films that can't get the aspects we love in comic books right, or over bloated blockbusters that aren't as fun or as imaginative as the fan fiction made afterwards, yet a film that tries something unique and succeeds is left as a joke. Even if Oswald's skit is a celebration for the fact it managed to be made, there's still an unfair joke at its existence. Unlike Oswalt's "Rape Stove: The Stove That Rapes People", if he ever gets round to actually writing a script for it, this is a film that openly admits its silliness without becoming ironic and is absolutely serious in a poetic way in spite of its strangeness. It's definitely not the oddest object in existence to be an antagonist of a horror film knowing there's an adaptation of a Stephen King story about a demonically possessed clothes press in existence, nor mentioning at least two killer refrigerator films in existence.

Openly admitting its bizarreness, director-writer George Barry dreamt of a man eating bed and decided to make a film about it, conjuring through cinematic production a true one-off made with lo-fi, uber low budget dream logic about a bed created by a demon. Brought to life by their tears of blood weeping over a lost human lover interest, a rampant monster is born who devours those who lay upon its duvet. It feels like a dream and fittingly even the back-story of the film celluloid itself was a subconscious reverberation that was discovered by modern viewers, lost to the haze of bootleg video even to its creator only to appear into existence again decades after. The scratched film, from the sole surviving print, emphasises its eerie air, post dubbed sound effects and dialogue leaving a ghostliness as the manor the bed is trapped in, in the basement, is a European gothic building falling to pieces in the midst of nowhere rural America. A heavy European influence is felt on Death Bed, a fairy tale openly admitting its flowery back-story as an elaborate birthing is responsible for the living bed, a personification of a greedy, crude and childish monstrosity which burps, growls, whines and plays sadistic tricks of nightmares on its victims before eating them by way of an internal sea of yellow digestive acid. It goes as far as have the ghost of Aubrey Beardsley, the legendary and notorious British illustrator of transgressive and erotic art by way of black ink, trapped behind a painting for a piece of alternative history, belittling the bed constantly and the film's narrator through post dub monologues. It all mixes with its seventies tone, just from the fashion on display, openly taking a risk of being artsy and pretentious above its limited budget. Risky but ultimately a success. 

It's aware of its own humorous premise as well. Unintentional irony couldn't exist from a scene where the bed drinks a whole bottle of Pepto Bismol, only the idea George Barry had an incredible sense of humour. A series of Daily Bugle headlines chronicling the bed's history to the segment about a quack doctor trying to make the bed a sex therapy treatment are all deliberately humorous highlights alongside the unintentional ones that are there, of oddly spoken dialogue to a pair of hands borrowed from a skeleton from a biology class. The seriousness comes from its moments of visual poetry. At first the scenes in the golden yellow digestive acid evoke Andres Serrano's infamous Piss Christ photograph only to turn into a disturbingly serene series of images, bodies writhing in the golden sheen as the red of blood swirls in it as physical mass of colour. The more flowery mythology turns to really creepy scenes, nightmares ranging from a meal of insects to a book of one's death using mirrored pages.

Abstract Spectrum: Fantastique/Psychotronic/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): High
From the midst of the golden era of American independent filmmaking, between the seventies and early eighties of bizarre genre blending and community theatre actors wandering around small town locations not seen in Hollywood cinema for a greater verisimilitude, Death Bed manages to be even more stranger than the entire lot of them I've experienced so far. You witness Death Bed, and the Oswalt sketch, spoken in the tone of not seeing the film, misses out even the hallucinatory experience of stumbling over this film and seeing something entirely contained in itself. With no connection to other films - one movie by George Barry only, no others and seemingly lost to time until this era - its indefinable. The theme by Cyclobe - partially created by Stephen Thrower, former member of Coil and a horror film expert who helped Death Bed become know - is disturbingly beautiful1, a modern piece of music melding seamlessly to a seventies film through time travel, but the catalogue of groaning hums and constant munching sounds from the original materials is just as alien to the ear.

That a large portion of the film follows a bed as an antagonist, one which manages to have so much personality, is bizarre in itself but through stop motion, sound effects and having Aubrey Beardsley's ghost as the straight man of the pair, the result is absolutely amusing when it's not also nasty and cruel, a sawing with a crucifix chain which is agonising to see or the bed playing with severed eyeballs of a former victim to look at someone. The resulting film is both openly silly, the Pepto Bismol, but serious and poetic at the same time, of dreams and red roses growing out of a victim's skull in an evocative Gothic horror image.

Personal Opinion:
Naturally I love the film. Gestated seemingly from nowhere, but able to read of its production through the aforementioned Stephen Thrower's tome Nightmare USA also shows it was a creation of love and invention from George Barry, one at first doomed never to exist properly only for him to discover on the internet decades later an entire hidden history to the film for him. Bootlegging allowed people to develop a mythology surrounding it, leading to official releases, theatrical screenings, a skit by a famous comedian and all his hard work to be for something worthwhile, a fairy tale ending to incredibly unique piece of fantasy horror.

1 Apparently there was an original score of cheesy saxophone music which makes this one of the few cases of tampering with original film materials that doesn't evoke George Lucas mucking about to the pleasure of few.

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